Review: Trixie Mattel

Drag Race fan favorite Trixie Mattel is out to prove her versatility with this new show, entitled Now with Moving Parts! The majority of the show sticks to her main talent: stand-up filled to the gunnels with comedy that’s either perverse or dark. She clearly has a natural aptitude for the form, and she’s been paying attention to how the best stand-up acts have been built for some time now – circling in from a highly topical and satirical beginning to a very personal and more thematically serious ending. Trixie’s also very gifted at meta-comedy, getting a secondary laugh when she reads the room’s reaction – or freely admitting she loves a certain bit so she’s keeping it, audience reaction be damned!

However, there is an extended, virtuoso lip-synch about “good christian bitches” that stitches together fragments of songs and movie dialogue in a manner that owes a lot to the legendary Lypsinka, which ends with a costume reveal that owes a lot to Lady Bunny. This girl pays homage to tradition, but also makes these moments uniquely Trixie.

Mattel also injects more music into her show this time – generally folksy comedy songs that prove “just how fucking white I am” – that include a hilarious acoustic take on a RuPaul dance track, some impressive live-sampled duets with herself, and as some autoharp fun for the finale. It’s all good clean dirty fun, and definitely recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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Review: Dianna Agron

This ain’t Quinn Fabray at the Carlyle, kids. You can tell a lot about the actual person and artistry of one-time Glee star Dianna Agron from her recent marriage to folk rock band Mumford & Sons’ banjoist and guitarist Winston Marshall. This is a beautiful young woman with a gorgeous voice who is nowhere more comfortable than when she’s singing a cover of a 1960s folk rock chestnut.

With this act she’s making her first entry into the world of New York cabaret, starting at the very top. Understandably nervous on her opening night, which showed in her hesitant patter, she calmed right down when it came time to sing. No song was less than beautifully sung, but she was at her best when a song brought out the actress in her – most notably in “Bang Bang” a hit for Cher and then Nancy Sinatra, and “Play with Fire,” one of The Rolling Stones’ earlier bad boy songs to push their image toward the demonic.

There’s an enormous amount of potential here – I would give a lot to hear Agron’s liquid gold voice act the hell out of some of Marianne Faithfull’s darker material. But she needs very much to bring more of her considerable acting chops into her song interpretation. There were glimmers of that in this cabaret act, and they were tantalizingly excellent. The job in cabaret, as much as in theatre and film, is storytelling, and Agron needs to do more of that. I have full confidence that she is more than capable. (One techincal note: the show was overamplified for the tres intimate Cafe Carlyle. It could even be truly “unplugged,” totally unamplified).

Because really, I think if she comes in firing on all cylinders she could do truly legendary things in cabaret. Sing all of Faithfull’s Broken English, maybe? Or how about a whole Dylan album? You could call the show Blonde on Blonde on Blonde! In any event, Agron is already giving us enough wonderfully sung renditions of dauntingly complex songs that I can heartily recommend her act as it stands today.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Jinkx Monsoon

You know, Jinkx actually asked me not to review this show – she asked that of the whole audience, saying “you wouldn’t review karaoke would you?” But since I’m going to rave about her, I don’t think she’ll mind. For, as loosey-goosey as this show is, it’s light years away from karaoke.

Jinkx Monsoon’s rapport with the audience and ability to roll with the punches brings Marilyn Maye to mind, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give. She takes requests and interacts with the audience throughout, and makes it looks easy. Let me assure you, this is about the hardest kind of show to carry off without crashing and burning, and it takes a major talent to do it without falling to pieces.

Of course, Jinkx’s stage persona is a great distance from Maye’s. She has an acid sassiness that’s closer to, say, Bette Midler, Madeleine Kahn or even Jackie Hoffman. She skews interpretations to the raunchier and darker edge of entertainment. There’s never been a doubt that Monsoon is more entertaining and smart than the vast majority of the competition – she’s much more than just another winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race – and she’s in fine fettle here.

Jinkx Sings Everything, as unstructured as it may be, is certainly much more thoughtful than your typical “by request” show. Let it be forever Monsoon season! Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Prince of Broadway

I am, in some ways, this show’s ideal audience: an ambitious director / choreographer looking for inspiration from Harold Prince, one of the most successful Broadway directors ever. That makes me not only more attentive to details in his dramaturgy, staging and transitions, but also more forgiving of moments where he trades depth for clarity, or sacrifices complexity for more broadly comprehensible insights.

Because, you see, Prince of Broadway, a retrospective revue of Prince’s Broadway work, has come in for some – I think unfair – critical drubbing since its opening. Other critics have seen it as disorganized and shallow, where I would argue it is neither of these things.

It follows a largely chronological ordering of numbers from Prince’s storied career. The only times Prince (who also directed here) fiddles with the timeline is when a song from slightly earlier in his career makes a better transition or section finale. Which I think is very smart when it comes to structuring a show for an audience concerned with being carried away by a theatrical experience, rather than niceties of opening night dates and the like. In other words, the general Broadway audience that Prince has always been so brilliant at speaking to, pushing them as far as he feels he can get away with, and no further – which has been far enough to establish him as a stunningly prolific innovator.

Also, transitions between numbers are governed by what makes more sense in that particular moment. Sometimes you want to know what happened next for Prince, sometimes following a thematic trail directly into another song from another show makes more sense.

Plus, when those songs are delivered by performers this good, almost nothing else matters. Karen Ziemba totally redefines “So What” from Cabaret with a paradoxically luminous rage. Emily Skinner simultaneously and amazingly celebrates and erases Elaine Strich’s legendary take on “Ladies Who Lunch” from Company. And Tony Yazbeck tearing “The Right Girl” from Follies to shreds is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Speaking of “The Right Girl,” that is a number where choreographer / co-director Susan Stroman’s work shines particularly bright. From the waist down, Yazbek’s energetic tap dance is pure exuberance; from the neck up his face is wracked with agony. This split between dancing and acting in one dancer’s body is pure Stroman. Recomended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Raja

We always knew she was a goddess! One of the most effortlessly stylish queens ever to appear on RuPaul’s Drag Race is making her much-anticipated solo cabaret debut at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Aptly titled Gawdess, the show features a little bit of everything: some singing, a whole lot of fashion fierceness, and, thank you Gawdess, some good old-fashioned lip-synching!!! In particular, a slinky lip-synch to Sade’s “Is It A Crime” is legendarily good.

And even though she says “that all the choreography you’re going to get” after a handful of steps in her opener – a sung cover of Banarama’s “Venus” – don’t you believe it. Raja swirls, twirls and dips with aplomb throughout the entire act, most impressively undulating a large golden cape with such skill that she reminded of modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller.

The show isn’t ambitious – it’s peppered with life lessons Raja’s picked up, but she doesn’t linger on them – but it’s such a good time! Raja has a warm charismatic presence, which makes you think she’d be able to put over just about anything she puts her mind to. Here, she’s not trying to do anything but give us sheer glittery gay fun, and she succeeds splendidly. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: The Terms of My Surrender

This show goes unexpectedly very gay at the end. No Michael Moore isn’t gay (heaven forfend), but there are several delicious, completely apolitical, payoffs at the finale, which made this an even more satisfying evening for me. The Terms of My Surrender was already pretty satisfying, as I am definitely a part of the anti-Trump choir that Moore is preaching to in this often funny, often disturbing dolled-up political rally.

Because, make no mistake about it, much of Terms is what you’d expect: an anti-Trump screed, by turns despairing and gleeful. But ultimately it is more than that, it’s a call to action in the most general of terms. Moore exhorts his audience to get involved in the political process any way they can, and uses stories from his own life – mostly from before his career as a famous filmmaker and author – to drive home the truth that one person can make an enormous difference, and you don’t have to be famous or wealthy to do it. Moore’s own journey began with a trip to a vending machine to get a bag of Ruffles chips; beginnings don’t get more humble than that.

He even gives you a remarkably easy way to begin making that difference, which I will link to here: the website and app 5calls.org. Together with Moore, I urge you to go there now and start being part of the solution. And definitely go see Terms of My Surrender, it is a marvelous and surprisingly entertaining bit of encouragement in these dark days. Recommended.

Remember, 5calls.org!

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Michael Feinstein

Michael Feinstein just keeps getting better. He’s consistently gained new vocal strength, and for a long time now he’s been soaring and belting with the best of them. In his latest cabaret act “Showstoppers” he brings together an eclectic set centered on the timeless standards that he’s known for – of which he is arguably the greatest defender and conservator.

“Showstoppers” does include several songs that fit what we usually think of that expression – they literally stopped the show in a Broadway musical with uproarious applause. For example, “Tchaikovsky (and Other Russians)” from Lady In the Dark, which made Danny Kaye into a star. It is a devilishly difficult and complex song to sing, and Feinstein knocks it out with breathtaking confidence. He also takes on “Fifty Percent” from Ballroom – one of the biggest 11 O’clock numbers of all time – but sings it slightly relyricized so that it comes across as a passionate statement of love from a gay man. Quite moving.

He also does songs that took a circuitous route to being showstoppers, like Louis Jordan’s 1940s R&B hit “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” which eventually found its way into Five Guys Named Moe. Or the title song of Cole Porter’s Can-Can, which only became a showstopper when cabaret legend Bobby Short started singing all of the songs lyrics (which had been cut from the show) in his club act. He even extends his definition to the soft rock classic “If” by the band Bread, which he terms a “personal showstopper.”

Feinstein and company put on a really engaging show that adds chic fun to the summer season. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.